•Families battle over custody of 2-yr –old boy
•What the custom says
By Gilbert Ekezie
Like a candle in the wind, Juliet Ndidi Osuchukwu’s life was cut short in her prime. A graduate of marketing from the Imo State University, Owerri, She died at 31. Before she died, a 36-year of man, Princewill Njoku, visited her family in Lagos to ask for her hand in marriage but he was asked to go to her hometown, as the Igbo tradition demands.
Daily Sun learnt that Njoku later went to do the marriage introduction in Juilet’s hometown, Okwe in Onuimo LGA of Imo State with about four people, and without the presence of the late Juliet. He was, therefore, asked to suspend further rites until Juliet, who was found to be four months pregnant, delivered her baby, as marriage is not conducted according to the Igbo tradition, while a lady is pregnant.
Unfortunately, she died after Caesarean section in a Lagos hospital while her baby survived. Controversy later ensued over the custody of the baby, who was taken from the hospital by his grandfather, Mr. Godwin Osuchukwu. But that did not go well with Njoku, who accused him of abducting, renaming and selling the boy for ritual. However, Osuchukwu denied the allegations, saying that they were malicious, frivolous, unfounded and unfortunate. He said that Njoku lied about his relationship with his late daughter and accused him of having a hand in his daughter’s death.
Grand pa’s story
Osuchukwu said: “The child in question, Master Samuel Ndidi Osuchukwu, is my grandson. I catered for his mother during the ante-natal and his general up keep since the day he was discharged from the hospital after the death of his mother. So, there is no way someone would come up with the allegation that I abducted him or changed his name. Samuel’s mother, Juliet Ndidi Osuchukwu, was my daughter, who died after a caesarean operation but he survived. Meanwhile, when she was pregnant, she had openly said that if she delivers a baby boy, he would be named Samuel. So, the name Samuel was given to him by my late daughter. Before then, Njoku had shown interest to marry Juliet but he was told to hold on till after her delivery, according to Igbo tradition. So, based on tradition, Njoku is not yet my in-law because he did not marry my daughter, according to the Igbo tradition. He says he is my in-law but I am saying that he is not because he has not married my daughter; rather I will say that he is my in-law to be.”
Furthermore, he said: “Sometime in 2015, Njoku came to tell me in Lagos that he wanted to marry my daughter and I told him we do not conduct marriage outside our hometown, as our culture and tradition demand. So, he promised to come to the village for the introduction, as I demanded. I also told him to let me know his hometown and where he is residing in Lagos, so that I could know him better and he promised to do that but later failed. Eventually, on Saturday May 30, 2015, he came to the village for the introduction. Before then, I found out that my daughter was already four months pregnant. Because what he came for was introduction, I decided not to chase him out and the introduction was done in the absence of my daughter. One of those he introduced as his uncle, who came with him asked to see who they came to marry and I told him to ask Njoku the question.
“On the day of introduction, they started talking about traditional marriage and I told them to hold on until my daughter delivered her baby because our culture and tradition do not allow traditional marriage to take place while a woman is pregnant, and they accepted. Out of the four men, who came with him to my house for the introduction, it was the man who Njoku said was his uncle that spoke. I did not know others. According to our culture, traditional marriage needs to be done properly. I, as the father, will perform the necessary rights that will show that I have given my daughter out in marriage. There is no short cut. My photograph, in casual wear, he is displaying was the one he took on the day of introduction and I did not know that he had a hidden plan against me. The issue here is that Njoku is not conversant with the laws of Igbo land, concerning marriage and that was why he derailed. He is also going about, posting on Facebook, newspapers and other medium, deceiving people that he did both traditional and Church wedding with my daughter.”
Osukwukwu added: “After the introduction, I gave my daughter some money to register for ante-natal. On June 2, 2015, she started and all the ante-natal documents from the registration, attendances and even her death certificate bear Juliet Osuchukwu, with my contact address.
How Mama Samuel died
“My daughter went for her normal ante-natal on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 and was asked to go for a test, which she did. The next day, she took the result to the hospital and the doctor recommended that she should be operated upon. The pregnancy was about seven months old. I did not know how Njoku found himself to the hospital and openly told her that she would be operated upon and she became afraid. That made her blood pressure to rise. Njoku called one of my sons, Emeka, from the hospital and lied to him that if the operation was not done, she and her baby would die, but with the operation, two of them would survive. But my son warned him not to try such, which he confessed on video. Thereafter, he contacted my sister and deceived her to sign for the operation and she did. My late daughter even ran into the toilet and hid to avoid the operation because of fear. Yet, they dragged her out and went ahead to do the operation.
“After the operation, she died and her baby survived. While all these were going on, I was not in good state of health. But I have four self-employed, able men in Lagos, who could, as a matter of emergency, go and sign for my daughter’s operation to rescue her. How come Njoku went to the hospital to sign for my pregnant daughter’s operation without my consent? Was he the one who registered her for the ante-natal? If you see the ante-natal documents, they all bear Osuchukwu, not Njoku. Then why should the hospital authority allow him to stand on behalf of the family when he is not yet fully part of us? In early morning of September 3, 2015, I managed to go to the hospital to see my daughter but was not allowed to see her. The reason was that she was receiving treatment. So, I left and later sent my children to the hospital. The next thing I heard was that my daughter had died. After confirmation, I told them to take the body home but Njoku insisted that it should be deposited in a mortuary in Lagos, claiming that he had no money to take the body of my daughter home.
He added: “After telling Njoku that we will not accept traditional marriage until my daughter delivered her baby, he told my daughter to abort the baby so that he would have his way. But my daughter refused and told him that she could not abort the pregnancy because it does not belong to him. As a result, he threatened that if she failed to abort the baby, she would not be alive to deliver it or get married to another man. That was why my late daughter went with her elder brother, Emeka, to report to one Frank, a bosom friend of his, that if she died, Njoku should be held responsible. Thereafter, Frank called Njoku and my daughter repeated the same statement in his presence. The only thing Njoku could say was that my daughter lacked home training, which meant that he admitted the statement. Also, before her death, my daughter posted on Facebook that ‘it is better to stay alone than to have someone, who would always hurt you.’ It is unfortunate that two weeks after the incident, Njoku went to sign for my daughter’s operation in the hospital without my consent even when he was warned not to do so, and she eventually died. Also, when my daughter died and we agreed to take her body home, Njoku flared up when the ambulance driver charged the sum of N50, 000. He told the driver that if not that ‘this thing’ has already been put inside the car, he would have asked him to bring it down. How could someone who claims to be a husband call the body of his dead wife, ‘this thing’? That shows the kind of person he is and how he regarded my daughter.
Why Njoku was allowed to bury Juliet
Based on the understanding between me and Njoku’s family, I allowed him to bury my daughter without my wife and I being present. There was an agreement that he would come later to fulfill the marriage rites accordingly since I would not be able to exhume the body after he must have fulfilled the marriage rites. So, I allowed him, not knowing that he would use that against me.
The bone of contention
“When my daughter died after delivery, I took her baby boy from the hospital for better care and Njoku did not show any commitment. Then, in December 2015, that was three months after the death of my daughter, he came to demand for the child and I told him that things should be done right. So, my wife and I traveled to the village with the baby in December 2015. It was then he lied that we pushed her younger sister, Charity, who stayed with us away from the house to abduct the child to sell for ritual. That shows he has an evil intention. When we returned to Lagos in January in 2016, I sent for Njoku, so that we could look critically into the death of my daughter and the way forward but he refused to come. I called his friend, Frank, and he said he was not coming, so I concluded that he had a hand in the death of my daughter. Even when the issue of autopsy came, he said he had no money to do that. It was my children and I who paid the sum of N100, 000 for the autopsy at Amaigbo Teaching Hospital.
When the doctors at the hospital asked him why my daughter was operated upon, he told them that it was 50-50, meaning that the doctor that operated her told him that after the operation, one person would die, while one would survive. But he told my son that it was 100%. So, when I became convinced that he knew what led to the death of my daughter, I went to report at Agboju Police Station, Lagos, and he was arrested. The group that tried to make peace, led by Frank, came to the police station and pleaded that he should be granted bail so that the matter could be resolved. I told the DCO that my interest was for Njoku to come so that we could discuss on what led to the death of my daughter. Thereafter, he was released.”
Agreement with Njoku after release from detention
He added: “After his release, he came to my house with some people, led by the same Frank and we agreed that he would come to complete what was left undone in the marriage rites, as culture and tradition demand. I also told him that the safety of my grandson was paramount to me, and that I wanted the child to grow with the mandate of my late daughter. I also told him that as a grandfather, I could claim to be the father of the boy. It does not mean that someone should come and claim to be a father when he is not qualified to be. At the meeting, he was asked to kneel down and apologise to me, which he did. He was, therefore, asked to comply with all the agreed terms and I announced at the meeting that I would withdraw the case.
Allegations of abduction and changing of child’s name
“The child’s name is Samuel Ndidi Osuchukwu and that is the name he has been answering since the day he was born. When his late mother was pregnant, she announced it to the family that if she had a baby boy, she would name him Samuel. So, when she died, we decided to give him the name his mother wanted. We gave him Ndidi, which was his mother’s name, in order to immortalise her. But Njoku was going round saying that the boy’s name is Kayomikun Chimdinso Destiny Sunday Patrick Njoku, a year after he was born and I objected that my grandchild would never answer such name. How come he named the boy Kayomikun, a Yoruba name, after the death of my daughter? That means he is happy that my daughter died.
“Njoku was advised by someone to put up a petition that I abducted my grandson. He was also told to give Samuel a Yoruba name after over one year he was born just to draw sympathy from people. His adviser also initiated the idea that a petition should be written to the police, accusing me with my family of kidnapping and selling my grandchild for ritual. When we went to the X-Squad of the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja on June 22, 2017, the police said the matter had nothing to do with such allegations. They acknowledged that every tribe had its culture and tradition, which guide them. The police later came to my house and took photograph of the child, who was alleged by Njoku to be kidnapped and sold for ritual, and thereafter advised us to go home and make peace because the safety of the child was paramount. He accepted that the child should be kept at the welfare but I refused that the child should be taken to the welfare where he will not be taken good care of. That shows he has no regard for the welfare of the child.
“An arrangement was made for my community and his to meet on December 30, 2016 and January 14, 2017 for further settlement. But he refused, saying that he would not take whatever any other person would say, except what the court said.
Njoku’s side of the story
In his explanation, Njoku said that he married the late Juliet according to the Igbo tradition and when she died, he buried her in his family, as wife and never had any agreement with Osuchukwu before the burial of Juliet.
Njoku’s narration: “When my wife was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia after tests were run on her, she was advised to start bed rest and we visited the hospital to commence the bed rest. I called Mama Tochukwu, my father-in-law’s sister, to join us in the evening of the same day. When she came, she was shouting at my wife, asking why it was I, who had to call her and the members of her family to join us in the hospital. When the doctor came back with the lab tests and said my wife was not in a stable condition to deliver and that there was an urgent need to deliver the baby that night through Caesarean operation to save her life and that of the child, I analysed the situation with Mama Tochukwu. We asked the doctor if the operation could be delayed but he advised that we should carry on with the operation. But if we refused to give consent, then we would need to sign for them that we refused and if we decided to carry her to another hospital, we would also need to sign for that purpose.
In-law’s consent before the C/S
“I called my wife’s brothers and they said that whatever their father said would be final. I called my father-in-law and told him the development and he asked to speak with the doctor and I handed over the phone to the doctor and they spoke at length. The doctor narrated the whole situation to him. And after their discussion the doctor handed over the phone to me. So, I signed the operation consent form and Mama Tochukwu signed as a witness.
Juliet my love
“I loved my wife because she was a good woman, who wanted to build a happy home with her husband and children. Even when they suggested that her body should be injected so that she would not decompose before getting to the village, I refused and had to carry her like that, believing that she might wake up on the road. In fact, I gave her the necessary attention when she was alive and dead. So, I should not be accused of having hands in her death. I am innocent of the allegation.
I married Juliet according to the Igbo tradition and performed all traditional rites.
I informed her father and brothers before she was operated upon in the hospital. My father-in-law spoke with the doctor, gave his consent and approval for the operation to be carried out. I buried my wife in my father’s compound in my village, as Igbo custom and tradition demand for a married woman, with the consent of her family. I registered her for ante-natal, paid all the hospital bills necessary for her safe delivery. I impregnated her and she was delivered of my son. So, I am telling my father-in-law to leave my son alone for me because I want to train my son in the fear of the Lord.
“I am demanding for him to be ordered to submit for a DNA or paternity test to confirm the paternity of my son. With this evidence, I can now relate back to his village how I came to marry their daughter and he betrayed the sanctity of my marriage to the daughter. I am also demanding full custody of my son, as enshrined in the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Lagos State, from my in-laws because I will not be alive and watch him train my son for me.”
Position of culture/tradition
Also, Mr. Emmanuel Ekwurundu, a legal practitioner from Mbano in Imo State, stated that any relationship without dowry is incomplete because that is what determines ownership of a child.
He explained that every area in Igbo land has their customs and tradition. But it is common to all that dowry is the key in marriage. Ekwurundu pointed out that in such case, if the man has paid the dowry, he is free to have the custody of the child. But if he has not, he has a bad case and should try to do that so that peace would reign. He said: “There is no need for misunderstanding in this case because there should be witnesses in every marriage. There is no how a complete marriage can be conducted between two people alone. So, the law of the owners of the deceased woman should take pre-eminence.”
Ekwurundu further explained that allowing the man to bury the woman in his compound is a privilege, not a right. “It is a common thing. One may do that out of consideration, hoping that the remaining thing would be completed thereafter,” said.
A legal practitioner, Mr. Cajethan Irodi, from Ifakala in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State explained that the Igbo customary law says that if a man did not complete the marriage rite and the woman dies, he would be made to do that before burying the woman. “But unfortunately in this case, I learnt that the family allowed him to bury their daughter with the agreement that he should do that later. What the family should do is to hold the baby until the man fulfils the marriage rites.”
Irodi said what matters most was the welfare of the child, noting that even if a man had fulfilled the marriage rites but seem incapable of taking care of the child, he should not be allowed to be under his custody. “The father-in-law, being a titled chief, is assumed to be knowledgeable enough on the issue and would not claim a child, who does not belongs to him. I think what he is asking is for the right thing to be done,” he said.
Irodi advised that the matter could well be resolved by involving elders that are knowledgeable enough in customs and traditions of the communities of both parties to look into the matter and if there are things left undone in the so-called marriage, the man should try and do them. Thereafter, if he is capable of taking care of the child, he should be allowed to do so.
Another community leader, Mr. Obiora Atuchukwu from Nnewi, Anambra State said that if a man did not complete marriage rites and his wife died, he would not be allowed to go ahead to do so. He explained that even though the man was responsible for the pregnancy but did not pay the woman’s dowry until death, every child delivered by her does not belong to the man.
He said: “According to their own tradition, if a man has not paid a woman’s dowry, we assume that he is just an ordinary friend. So, he should not claim to have custody of any child born by the woman. If the man’s claim that he paid the woman’s dowry is true, the child belongs to him. Yet, his in laws have the right to insist that they want to groom the child in a way that would please their departed daughter.”
Also, another legal practitioner and community leader, Mr. Stanley Iweh, said the issue is a traditional and customary and should be handled same way.
According to him, the man in question should visit his in-laws with his brothers, so that they would discuss and resolve the matter amicably. “Handling it outside Igbo land will not bring out the desired result. Therefore, if the man has not completed the marriage rites, he should go and do that immediately before talking about custody of the child because if actually he is the father of the child, no one will deny him that according to Igbo tradition, provided that he has fulfilled the necessary requirements,” posited.
Iwe, who hails from Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State noted that the parents of the child did well by taking care of the baby because there is no other person to do that better than them in such a circumstance. He said: “The in- laws are in order. They are the rightful people to take care of the boy until he grows. As long as the man is contributing for the upkeep of the boy, he should not bother about custody for now. What matters for now is the safety and better upbringing of the child, not where he should be. According to Igbo law and tradition, we do not only marry by introduction. Marriage goes beyond that. If the daughter of the man was the victim of such incident, he would have acted the same way. So, it is a common phenomenon.”
Iweh further explained that in his own locality, women who are not married completely are married after death. Thereafter, everything is settled and the man would have full custody of his children. “The man should stop dragging such traditional issue that has an obvious solution. If the boy had died, the relationship would have ended. But since he is alive, the relationship with his in laws will continue to exist. What he needs is to try to oil it and not to compound issues.”
In own contribution, Mr. Anayo Innocent Mama from Obollo Eke in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State said the issue of child custody does not pose a serious problem in his area because it is a tradition that if a man did not pay dowry on his wife and she dies, he forfeits all his children. “We do not bother about who is responsible for the pregnancy but who paid the dowry on the woman. Do you know that you can marry an already pregnant person whose dowry has not being paid and the child becomes yours as long as you are the one who paid her dowry? So, the issue here is whether the man you are talking about paid dowry of the woman, if he did, then, he is free. But if he did not, he should forget ownership and custody of the boy. Though, it depends on the tradition of the family of the woman,” he said